Wittenberg University Speleological Society Experiences Japanese Culture From Ground Up
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — When Yuriy Fedkiw, Wittenberg University class of 1999, moved to Tokyo after graduation, he took his adventurous spirit with him. He also never lost touch with his alma mater, and now, despite being half a world away, both Fedkiw and his beloved Wittenberg University Speleological Society (WUSS) are benefiting from the relationship.
Fedkiw will be the primary contact when seven current members of WUSS, better known as caving enthusiasts or spelunkers, travel to Japan from Aug. 2-14. Accompanying them on the trip are Caleb Heimlich, administrative assistant for library serials at Wittenberg and a research coordinator for WUSS, club adviser Horton Hobbs, professor of biology, and Stephen Smith, anthropologist and the trip’s coordinator.
This opportunity is available thanks to a Wittenberg student group travel grant program funded by the Freeman Foundation, which is committed to increasing, strengthening and popularizing the teaching of Asia in college and university classrooms. Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies program received a $1.9 million grant from the foundation in January 2002 to ensure that all Wittenberg students, regardless of their course of study, have an encounter with Asia as part of their undergraduate experience.
WUSS is the latest in an eclectic mix of Wittenberg student groups to have made trips to East Asia on Freeman Foundation travel grants in recent years, including the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Chamber Singers and Handbell Choir, members of the Honors Program and the Literary Society. Numerous individual students and professors have also made trips to Asia as part of the grant program.
Smith, who is not a caver but has made many trips to Asia during his professional career, said the grant creates once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for students who may have never previously dreamed of going abroad, like several members of WUSS.
“This is a way to make the unfamiliar familiar,” Smith said. “Through this program, Asia becomes real.”
Members of WUSS, a chapter of the National Speleological Society focused on the exploration, conservation and study of cave and karst systems, truly have a unique experience awaiting them. Fedkiw, who has a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from Wittenberg and master’s degrees in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, got “hooked” on the island nation during his undergraduate years when he spent a year as an exchange student there. He may well “hook” some more cavers on Japan this summer.
“Japanese cavers are really a great group of people and about as ‘wacky’ as cavers in the United States,” Fedkiw said. “I hope that by bringing WUSS members and local cavers together, they’ll get a double dose of what they’re coming to Japan for - a cross-cultural and international experience underground.
“Though we may have cultural and linguistic differences, there is an instant connection through caving no matter what part of the world you come from. I really hope that the Wittenberg students will get a chance to get to know their Japanese counterparts and at the same time get a chance to see the beautiful caves and cultural sites Japan has to offer.”
After flying to Tokyo, the cavers, who plan as many as three weekend outings per month during the school year, will do some sightseeing in and around Kyoto before traveling to several different caving locations. The group also plans to observe two important cultural festivals – Tanabata and Obon, spend a night in a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn, climb famed Mount Fuji and explore nearby lava tubes.
Fedkiw plans to connect the current collegiate cavers not only with their Japanese counterparts, but also with other Wittenberg alumni who have decided to live abroad after graduation. Smith and Fedkiw hope to create lifetime friendships through informal opportunities for current Wittenberg students and alumni to get to know one another.
WUSS members making the trip include Michele Maxson of Springfield, Ohio, class of 2005 and a research coordinator for the trip, Rebecca Stewart of Knoxville, Tenn., class of 2006; Emily Fink of Phillipsburg, Ohio, Kevin Kissell of Springfield, Ohio, and Katie Nichols of Toledo, Ohio, all class of 2007; and Rachel Horowitz of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Erick Twaite of Califon, NJ, both class of 2008.
- Ryan Maurer